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May 19, 2016

UMass Boston Economist: Paid Leave Proposal Would Expand Access for Mass. Workers

  • Boston

A proposed statewide program to provide paid leave for medical and family caregiving would cover 3.1 million Massachusetts workers and level the playing field for women, minorities, and low-income workers, at an average cost of only $3 a week per each covered employee, according to a new analysis by economists from the University of Massachusetts Boston and Northeastern University.


“We already know that a paid family and medical leave program shares the risk of taking leave across the workforce, levels the employment playing field, and reduces inequality,” said Randy Albelda, professor of economics at UMass Boston and co-author of the report. “Now we also know that it is affordable.”  


Albelda and Alan Clayton-Matthews, associate professor of economics and public policy at Northeastern, analyzed the impact of Senate Bill 1008 / House Bill 1718, which was moved forward Monday by the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. The report, entitled It’s About Time: Costs and Coverage of Paid Medical and Family Leave in Massachusetts, applies a simulation model developed by Albelda and Clayton-Matthews to project cost estimates, leave-taking behavior, and usage of a paid leave program, using key provisions of the committee’s bill as a guide.


Key findings from the report include:


Nearly 3.1 million private sector and state government employees would be covered by the program. Those employees currently take 508,000 family and medical leaves annually – 68 percent for medical leaves (covering the employee’s own health conditions or pregnancy) and 32 percent for family leaves (to bond with a new child or care for an ill parent, spouse, or child).


The estimated annual cost is $491 million for wage-replacement benefits for employees using the program, not including administrative program expenses. The average weekly cost is estimated at $3.06 per covered employee.


The report forecasts an additional 13,000 estimated leaves each year under the program, because more employees would be able to afford taking a leave. Wage replacement benefits under the new program would be provided for 152,000 leaves.


The percentage of leaves with any wage replacement (including existing benefits such as vacation and paid sick days) would increase by 8.4 percentage points from 72.4 percent to 80.8 percent.


The paid leave program would ensure wage replacement for the populations least likely to have current access to paid time off for medical and family leaves: women, blacks and Latinos, low-wage, and near poor workers, as well as employees of small firms.


“Our study focuses on the use and cost of a statewide program, but let’s keep the benefits of enabling workers to afford to bond with new children and take care of their own and family members’ health needs in mind,” said Clayton-Matthews. “It’s good family and health policy. That’s why virtually every other country provides such paid leave benefits.”


“Forty percent of women now serve as primary breadwinners in their families, and they deserve to have access to wage replacement when significant caregiving needs arise,” said Ann Bookman, director of UMass Boston’s Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy. “No one should be forced to choose between taking care of a family member and getting a paycheck.”


Bookman, who was principal author of a bipartisan report to Congress on the impact of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), said state legislation is an important addition. "The passage of FMLA was a great advance for working families in 1993, but it doesn’t cover all workers due to eligibility requirements and it is unpaid.”


“Paid leave policies will lower turnover and absenteeism for low paid employees, bolstering their economic security while boosting the bottom line for businesses,” said Susan Crandall, director of UMass Boston’s Center for Social Policy.


Currently, only five states have paid medical leave programs, and only three—California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island—also provide paid family leave. In April, New York, which has paid disability leave, approved paid family leave.


Albelda and Clayton-Matthews’ full report and infographics can be found at www.umb.edu/cwppp.


The report was issued by the Center for Social Policy and the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy at the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies. The simulation model used in the report was funded by a 2014 Paid Leave Analysis Grant awarded to Commonwealth Corporation from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau.

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